Published: 22 January 2024

How Ministry Was Funded in the Old Testament, Part 2

Funded in the Old Testament

Luke is a gifted preacher and speaker. Some of the biggest summer camps book him years in advance, and large churches love to invite him to present at conferences.

In the early years of his preaching ministry he would only receive honorariums as a free gift that churches might give him to help cover expenses. But now he receives more requests than he can commit to. At one point an old pastor told him that he needed to think about charging upfront for speaking engagements. His family agreed that this was a wise idea, and after considering it prayerfully, Luke began making it clear that he would require X amount in payment in addition to all of his travel expenses before agreeing to speak at an event. At first he didn’t like how this exchange felt, especially when smaller, likable churches couldn’t afford what he asked. But as the money started to flow, after a while he got used to it.

Once in a while when Luke has quieted his heart and is out on an evening walk with God, conflicted sentiments crowd his thoughts, and his conscience wonders whether he’s doing the right thing by putting a price tag on sharing what God has freely given him.” –Adapted from

Is it okay to sell ministry?

Can we sell Bible teaching by charging for recorded sermons, putting study material behind a paywall, charge money for worship music, etc.? People can clearly do it, and they are doing it, but what does the Bible say about it? Jesus said, ”Freely you have received; freely give” (Matt. 10:8). Jesus gave this commandment to those He sent out on the limited commission, so, does it apply to anyone else? As it turns out, this was not a new or one-off command. Let’s see how God funded ministry in the Old Testament.

In the previous article we noted that a mediated obligation funded the Levitical priesthood. That is, the ancient Israelites gave God tithes and offerings out of a sense of obligation for what He had done for them. In turn, God gave these tithes to the Levites to support them in their full-time work of serving in the tabernacle/temple. The people did not pay the Levites directly for their service; it was not a matter of reciprocity. Let’s look at a few more Old Testament examples, both negative and positive.

Positive examples of co-labor


In 1 Kings 17, God had caused a drought upon the land because of the wickedness of king Ahab. For a time, the prophet Elijah found provisions near the brook Cherith, but eventually the brook dried up. When this happened, God said to Elijah “Get up and go to Zarephath of Sidon, and stay there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you” (1 Kings 17:9 BEREAN). 

The widow fed the prophet as God had commanded her. This is an excellent example of co-labor. The widow provided for Elijah out of a sense of obligation to God, not out of obligation to the prophet. Both people served the same Master (God) making the arrangement one of co-labor. That is, two people who work together to serve God.


The Shunammite woman and her husband of 2 Kings 4 recognized that Elisha was a prophet. This woman took the initiative to provide meals and a guest room for Elisha. There is no indication in the passage that the prophet was doing anything in return for the hospitality. The text suggests she was doing this because she recognized him as “a holy man of God” (2 Kings 4:9). 

In both situations, the ones who first extended hospitality did get something out of it. However, Owens comments that “in both cases, the giving precedes the miracles, demonstrating that neither participated in an exchange or out of a sense of direct obligation. Instead, their primary obligation is toward the Lord.”1

On the flip side, Elisha flatly refused an offer of reciprocity. When he healed Naaman of his leprosy, he would not accept a gift in exchange for the healing (2 Kings 5:15-16). Even though Naaman offered the gift as a voluntary token of appreciation, the prophet refused it. Elisha’s refusal is consistent with the dorean principle. Specifically, he declined anything given in reciprocity, but accepted what was offered as co-labor, such as the hospitality of the Shunammite woman.

Negative examples of reciprocity


Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, didn’t share his master’s scruples concerning reciprocity. In 2 Kings 5:20-24, he pursued Naaman and lied in order to take Naaman’s gift for himself. When Elisha confronted him about this (vv. 26-27), God transferred Naaman’s leprosy Gehazi as punishment for his actions. Owens comments:

“While this malediction no doubt arises from Gehazi’s deceitfulness, Elisha explicitly condemns the nature of such an exchange. 

Was it a time to accept money and garments, olive orchards and vineyards, sheep and oxen, male servants and female servants? (2 Kings 5:26b)”2

Hophni and Phinehas

1 Samuel describes Eli’s two sons as complete scoundrels. These brothers were priests, but they were wicked and “they had no regard for the LORD or for the custom of the priests with the people” (1 Sam. 2:12-13 BEREAN). What did they do that showed their contempt for God and their priestly duties? 

13 When any man offered a sacrifice, the servant of the priest would come with a three-pronged meat fork while the meat was boiling 14 and plunge it into the pan or kettle or cauldron or cooking pot. And the priest would claim for himself whatever the meat fork brought up.  (1 Sam. 2:13-14 BEREAN)

They were taking meat from the worshippers before they could even offer it to God and even threatened to do this by force if necessary (v. 16)! I suppose this was an example of forced reciprocity. They brazenly took from the Israelites that which they tried to offer to God. 

They turned what worshippers intended as co-labor into reciprocity. Because they had no regard “for the custom of the priests with the people” (v. 13), God declared they would both die on the same day (1 Samuel 2:34). What custom might that be? It is no doubt the custom (required in the Law of Moses) of co-labor. They were wicked priests; forced reciprocity contributed to their demise.

Ministry should be supported, not sold

The examples in the Old Testament that we have examined give ample support to show that co-labor was the norm under the Mosaic Covenant. Jesus’s commands in Matthew 10 and Luke 10 were consistent with that which had been the accepted practice God’s ministers and prophets for centuries.

“[T]he vertical obligation regulates the horizontal obligation.”3 The Old Testament pattern is clear. Co-labor, and never reciprocity, was the method God approved of in the Old Testament Scriptures.

We’ll look at some New Testament examples as well, but before we do that we’ll examine the apostle Paul’s comments about ministry fundraising.


  1. Owens, Conley. The Dorean Principle: A Biblical Response to the Commercialization of Christianity (p. 85). FirstLove Publications. Kindle Edition.
  2. Owens, Conley. The Dorean Principle: A Biblical Response to the Commercialization of Christianity (p. 85). FirstLove Publications. Kindle Edition.
  3. Owens, Conley. The Dorean Principle: A Biblical Response to the Commercialization of Christianity (p. 88). FirstLove Publications. Kindle Edition.